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Buffalo Bills’ injury quality, not quantity, a nuisance in 2022

Not all losses are the same

Buffalo Bills v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

If it felt like the Buffalo Bills were bit by the injury bug in 2022, you might be surprised to learn that they were top five in the NFL in the fewest games missed by injured players per “Man Games Lost.” General manager Brandon Beane mentioned at his year-end press conference that while the team did have some injuries they needed to overcome, it wasn’t an excuse.

Marrying the subjective observation that the Bills lost a lot of their fast ball due to injuries with raw metrics that indicate they were one of the healthiest teams in football relies on two very important points. First, a player participating in a game is not an indication that they are not injured. Diminished capacity exists across the entire league at all times of the season. Players gut through injuries with lessened capabilities all the time. In the recent Netflix documentary “Quarterback,” it was revealed that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins sustained a rib injury in Week 9 and was dealing with it for the remainder of the season. At no point did he show up on the Vikings injury report. Him playing in a game is a binary: either he plays or he doesn’t. It does not indicate the gradient health scale he may be on at the time when he played or how diminished his ability may be.

But given the fact that this first phenomenon exists in every locker room in the league at every time during the regular season and cannot be accurately compared from team to team, we must simultaneously acknowledge its existence and know that we cannot measure its impact to determine what team is “more hurt” and which is “less hurt.” Thus, we move onto the second point: not all players are equally valuable to a team’s probability of victory and, as such, not all man games lost are equal. Bills star safety Micah Hyde missed 17 games in 2022 (including playoffs). Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Matt Corral also missed 17 games in 2022. Those injuries are calculated identically in “man games lost.” They did not have identical impact on their respective teams.

Once again using, we can observe the quantity of “man games lost” for the Buffalo Bills relative to the quality of the games that were lost. The website uses a “lost added value (AV)” metric to quantify the impact had on a team through the loss of a specific player. In the graph below, the farther to the right a team is, the more man games lost they have, but the larger the bubble surrounding the team’s abbreviation, the more AV that team lost due to the injuries.

What is represented here lines up with what the narrative was about the Buffalo Bills and injuries in 2022: they didn’t lose A LOT of players; they just lost GOOD players. Micah Hyde and Von Miller make up a large portion of this bubble. The only playoff team with a bubble clearly larger than the Bills is the San Francisco 49ers, who were on their third-string quarterback when they got into the playoffs. The two Super Bowl participants had much smaller bubbles to represent quality of players who missed games, and the Minnesota Vikings’ metric on quality lost, when combined with their record in one-score games, seems to back up the narrative that luck was on their side last year.

What has seemed to be true ended up being true. Many Bills fans seemed to believe that the team got punched in all the right areas last year with injuries, and this data seems to reinforce that notion.

...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!